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MS drags feet on AMD Sledgehammer support

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Out-takes from a recent Microsoft developers conference in Europe suggest that Wintel is circling the wagons in the face of a 64-bit assault by an AMD allied with some decidely Redmond-hostile outfits. Or alternatively, one could speculate that Microsoft's efforts to implement 64-bit Windows on Itanium have left it no time to cater for AMD's alternative.

Whatever, our spies report a Microsoft speaker as saying that the next generation of Win2k, Whistler, is scheduled for release before next August, to make the autumn sales window and to come just after the official launch of Itanium. Asked if Whistler wouldn't be released earlier in order to cater for the release of AMD's Sledgehammer, the speaker said: "No, because we have no intention of supporting the Sledgehammer with Whistler."

We need to unpick that a little before we proceed, particularly for the benefit of those (sadly, numerous) readers who hit the send button before they get to the end of the sentence. August is a plausible target ship date for Whistler, given that it's aimed at mid-2001, and if you're fairly relaxed about launch, first shipments and volume production (which, particularly these days, Intel is) then you could figure August as coming just after widespread Itanium availability. AMD meanwhile says it will announce the "Hammer" family of processors at the end of 2001, so our questioner was possibly somewhat premature.

You could also figure that there's too much 'because it's magic' associated with AMD's Sledgehammer right now for us to be able to judge accurately whether it will work to specification and blow Itanium out of the water. It might, but actually, the question whoever it was asked the guy from Microsoft was weird in the first place. Microsoft is working on 64-bit Windows, and may well be rather more advanced than we Register cynics have suggested in the past - we've heard from reasonable, honest-sounding people who say 'tis so.

But 64-bit Windows on Itanium is nothing more than a pilot. Intel itself started downplaying Itanium a couple of years back, and more recent reports make it clear how wise this was. Itanium isn't it, it's a pilot project in itself. Whistler, on the other hand, is a key product, the clean-up of Win2k, the (maybe) ambitious stab at new UI technology, and the base of the next generation consumer OS as well. If Microsoft can keep development in sync, there'll be a 64-bit version for Itanium, sure, but it's the 32-bit version Microsoft will get its revenue from. And Intel will get its money from the 32-bit chips it runs on.

So what do we make of our MS guy saying no Sledgehammer support? Obviously he needs time in diplomacy school, but it's logical enough. Win64 work now may give Microsoft an advantage in future Intel 64-bit development, but will produce no bucks next year. Microsoft has been focussed (well bits of it, anyway) on Itanium development for some considerable time, whereas Sledgehammer from Microsoft's point of view is this weird 'secret sauce' thing that came out of left field somewhat later. And it has a 32-bit get-out, so what's the problem?

It is significant that Microsoft people are saying 'never' to Sledgehammer, but it's also significant that - according to our informant at the same conference - this was swiftly amended to "later." AMD does need to get Microsoft onside as it stops being a follower and tries to be a leader, but Intel and Microsoft have spent a lot of years giving the public appearance of being joined at the hip, and it'll be tricky for Chimpzilla to get in there. Clearly it hasn't - yet? It'll probably have to downplay Linux a tad and dump Sun. ®

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